Survival Through Poetry

41QhzljbyQL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_I am normally about a decade behind on reading books, but my lovely sister Kelly who keeps me supplied with downloaded audio books has kept me somewhat current this time. Last month I finished listening to/reading Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, which came out in 2012. It’s the kind of novel that poets love and one that takes a bit of a poet’s mentality to perhaps fully appreciate.

Please don’t let that turn you off, you non-poetry people out there (hey, what are you doing on my site, by the way?).

The story is compelling, the characters people you want to know, the setting futuristic (sort of), and . . . there’s a dog named Jasper, a blue heeler who will win over every reader’s heart. (Scroll down on this page to see the dog that inspired him.)

A few weeks ago when Al Letson, the host of State of the ReUnion, was interviewing me, he began talking about this book, and the two of us, poets and poetry-lovers, agreed on its beauty and value.

And so . . .  the poetry of the book . . . When I first began listening, I had a hard time following the story. Eventually it occurred to me that it was written like poetry: in economical language with the emphasis on phrase and action, image and noun. At least at first, I think the reader has to read as if it were poetry instead of fiction.

Very quickly, the narrative will settle in your head, and the poetry will meld with it. I guessed that Heller was a poet before I went online looking for information about him. Not only does he write like one, but also, poetry appears in key places in the story, particularly the end.

My copy of The Winged Horse, withdrawn from the Okmulgee Public Library
My copy of The Winged Horse, withdrawn from the Okmulgee Public Library

I am not going to tell you what this story is about. I just googled the book for the first time before I began to write this this morning, and I noticed there are tons of reviews out there for it. I didn’t read them but imagine I am saying a lot of the same things they did.

At one time, poetry was necessary in our lives. The Winged Horse tells us, “ . . . whatever people did that was of any importance began or ended in poetry. If someone could have destroyed their poetry, they would have been as frightened and helpless as men would be today if all the newspapers, theaters, schools, and churches should suddenly and mysteriously be blotted out.” (This book was written in 1927, but I love it and quote it generously.)

Heller’s book demonstrates that if humans manage to be almost wiped out, poetry will be the tool to which the survivors turn.

–Shaun Perkins

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